Are Libertarians 'Anarchists'?Submitted by newt on Sat, 11/24/2012 - 13:49
Are Libertarians 'Anarchists'?
by Murray N. Rothbard
This article was written in the mid-1950s under the byline "Aubrey Herbert," a pseudonym Rothbard used in the periodical Faith and Freedom. It was never published.
The libertarian who is happily engaged expounding his political philosophy in the full glory of his convictions is almost sure to be brought short by one unfailing gambit of the statist. As the libertarian is denouncing public education or the Post Office, or refers to taxation as legalized robbery, the statist invariably challenges. "Well, then are you an anarchist?" The libertarian is reduced to sputtering "No, no, of course I'm not an anarchist." "Well, then, what governmental measures do you favor? What type of taxes do you wish to impose?" The statist has irretrievably gained the offensive, and, having no answer to the first question, the libertarian finds himself surrendering his case.
Thus, the libertarian will usually reply: "Well, I believe in a limited government, the government being limited to the defense of the person or property or the individual against invasion by force or fraud." I have tried to show in my article, "The Real Aggressor" in the April 1954 Faith and Freedom that this leaves the conservative helpless before the argument "necessary for defense," when it is used for gigantic measures of statism and bloodshed. There are other consequences equally or more grave. The statist can pursue the matter further: "If you grant that it is legitimate for people to band together and allow the State to coerce individuals to pay taxes for a certain service – "defense" – why is it not equally moral and legitimate for people to join in a similar way and allow the State the right to provide other services – such as post offices, "welfare," steel, power, etc.? If a State supported by a majority can morally do one, why not morally do the others?" I confess that I see no answer to this question. If it is proper and legitimate to coerce an unwilling Henry Thoreau into paying taxes for his own "protection" to a coercive state monopoly, I see no reason why it should not be equally proper to force him to pay the State for any other services, whether they be groceries, charity, newspapers, or steel. We are left to conclude that the pure libertarian must advocate a society where an individual may voluntarily support none or any police or judicial agency that he deems to be efficient and worthy of his custom.
I do not here intend to engage in a detailed exposition of this system, but only to answer the question, is this anarchism? This seemingly simple question is actually a very difficult one to answer in a sentence, or in a brief yes-or-no reply. In the first place, there is no accepted meaning to the word "anarchism" itself. The average person may think he knows what it means, especially that it is bad, but actually he does not. In that sense, the word has become something like the lamented word "liberal," except that the latter has "good" connotations in the emotions of the average man. The almost insuperable distortions and confusions have come both from the opponents and the adherents of anarchism. The former have completely distorted anarchist tenets and made various fallacious charges, while the latter have been split into numerous warring camps with political philosophies that are literally as far apart as communism and individualism. The situation is further confused by the fact that, often, the various anarchist groups themselves did not recognize the enormous ideological conflict between them.